Daily News- May 07- 2002- Tuesday

  • U.S.,EU Keeps Myanmar Sanctions Despite Suu Kyi Release
  • Burma must deal with Suu Kyi
  • Cynicism reigns over Suu Kyi move
  • U.N. envoy whose company did business in the country had no conflict of interest, U.N. says
  • U.N. envoy denies Myanmar business deal compromised his role
  • ILO appoints interim liaison officer in Myanmar
  • Htoo twins reject US
  • Junta must commit to democracy before sanctions lifted
  • Bush tells Myanmar's rulers to embrace democracy
  • Thai PM wants minorities included in Myanmar national reconciliation
  • State media blacks out news of Suu Kyi release despite praise from world leaders
  • Myanmar economy in tatters under weight of sanctions, mismanagement


  • U.S.,EU Keeps Myanmar Sanctions Despite Suu Kyi Release

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Monday welcomed the release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar but stressed it expected other major changes in the military-ruled state before lifting sanctions.

    President Bush , traveling in Michigan, told reporters: "I thought that was very positive ... (a) good development."

    But State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the release was only a first step toward easing strict sanctions on the impoverished South Asian state, which has been ruled by the military for decades.

    "It's a very important first step toward real political dialogue," Boucher told reporters. "We'll be closely watching to see if Aung San Suu Kyi is afforded full freedom of movement and association as has been promised," he said.

    "Much more remains to be done to achieve political reform and national conciliation and we're looking to see concrete steps that do that before considering what to do about sanctions," he said.

    Those sanctions include an arms embargo, an investment ban, suspension of bilateral aid, visa restrictions and a freeze on new lending and grant programs by international agencies.

    Boucher noted that many politicians remained in jail in the country, formerly known as Burma, where a popular uprising was crushed by the military in 1989 and where a subsequent election won overwhelmingly by Suu Kyi's party was ignored.

    "We urge the regime to follow up on Aung San Suu Kyi's release with the unconditional release of all political prisoners and to fulfill their commitment to allow all of Burma's citizens to participate freely in the political life of the country," Boucher said.

    Suu Kyi, 56, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, was released on Monday after 19 months of house arrest. She declared she would carry on fighting for democracy. Announcing her release, the military government said it had begun "a new page for the people of Myanmar and the international community."

    The United States said in February it would consider lifting sanctions in return for what it called "significant progress" in talks with Suu Kyi, including her release.

    EU says Suu Kyi release not enough to lift sanctions

    MADRID, May 6 (AFP) - The EU on Monday welcomed the release from house arrest of Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi but said it was not enough for Brussels to lift its sanctions on the country.

    "It is a step in the right direction" said Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency. "But there are still numerous issues to be resolved."

    "To those who ask if the EU is ready to change its joint position towards Myanmar, I must say no," he said at a press conference.The EU has imposed sanctions on Myanmar to pressure the military junta into implementing reforms.

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    Burma must deal with Suu Kyi

    The Bangkokpost

    The military dictators of Burma have done the right thing in freeing Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, but deserve no credit. Mrs Suu Kyi broke no law, had no charges against her and incited no violence. During every day of her 19 months of house arrest, she had the right to walk and talk freely, like every other law-abiding citizen of Burma and every country. The test of the military junta begins today when it must negotiate fast, meaningful steps towards democracy and rule of law.

    It would be wise to withhold thanks and congratulations to the Burmese generals for doing the right thing. For one thing, this is the third time Mrs Suu Kyi has been arrested wrongfully, and illegally, and then freed from detention. She was held in 1988 as the generals went about the business of killing thousands of citizens for the crime of wanting a democratic government. She was arrested and held for years once again when the junta staged a fake election which nevertheless voted Mrs Suu Kyi's National Democracy League into power in 1990.

    Burma's only winner of the Nobel Peace Prize was last detained in September 2000 because she wanted to travel out of Rangoon. That is not a crime even in repressive Burma, but the junta felt a trip to the countryside by Mrs Suu Kyi was so dangerous that they once again seized her, locked her in her home, cut off all communications to the outside world, and put soldiers and secret police goons around the residence to ensure no one got in or out.

    While Mrs Suu Kyi was jailed in this latest illegal action, the generals were busy. They sent their army and ``allies'' up to, and over, the Thai border in a long series of provocative actions that actually threatened war. They got extremely close to the United Wa State Army _ ``Secretary One'' Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt travelled to the region to show support _ as the UWSA consolidated the greatest drugs cartel in the region's history. Burma cosied up to drug dealer and money launderer Lo Hsing-han, even giving him control of a new Rangoon port. After the election of the Thaksin Shinawatra government last year, the generals cosied up to Thailand, absorbing the respect they earned by associating with Mr Thaksin's ministers.

    Mrs Suu Kyi thus faces a regime that has changed subtly, but hardly at all in either form or substance. The generals rarely speak publicly about politics, but appear to believe they are stronger. They claim to have released 600 political prisoners, but openly refuse to release the other 1,900. They continue to make quid pro quo deals with minority groups. In return for not attacking them, they allow some local autonomy. The deal with the Wa _ peace in return for the drugs cartel _ is an example.

    Mrs Suu Kyi has held rather higher goals since she began her campaign for democracy. How she will proceed from here, and what support she receives, is the business of the Burmese people. She said yesterday she expects to discuss matters of policy with the generals. The junta must allow her total freedom _ of speech, of public gatherings, of the press. If they do, and if they bargain a deal to share and then to give up power, the generals will earn some respect, despite their unfriendly and violent actions since 1988.

    One hopes the generals realise that the release of Mrs Suu Kyi is the first step in a process they owe to their people and their neighbours. Of course Mrs Suu Kyi deserves to be free in her country. She is non-violent and has never broken the law. It is vital that the military junta treat her as the important political leader that she is. Serious negotiations on ending the military dictatorship must proceed as soon as possible.

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    Cynicism reigns over Suu Kyi move

    The Nation

    As the world welcomes the release of Burma's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, let us not forget that more than 1,000 political prisoners are still locked up around the country. The world cannot afford to be complacent - this is no time to ease the pressure on the Burmese generals, whose government has one of the worst human rights records in the world. The light at the end of the tunnel for Burma's national and political reconciliation has still yet to be seen.

    Rangoon yesterday said it was turning a "new page" in its relations with the international community in connection with the release of Suu Kyi, the 1991 Nobel prize winner whose struggle symbolises the oppressed democratic aspirations of the Burmese.

    But the world should not forget that we have seen this before. Suu Kyi's release should not be equated with a breakout of democracy in Burma. The generals must match their actions with deeds.

    In 1995, when Suu Kyi was released from six years of house arrest, she and other senior members of the National League for Democracy were prevented by the regime from carrying out political activities. Nineteen months ago, they put Suu Kyi back under house arrest for her peaceful but relentless fight for what the vast majority of the Burmese people consider to be their inalienable right to choose their own leaders.

    Today, with her re-release, the ruling State Peace and Development Council is calling on the world for understanding. The junta must know, however, that the world only has so much patience.

    Hailed internationally for her determination and courage, Suu Kyi has kept the struggle for democracy in Burma alive in spite of the restrictions imposed upon her by the military. She defiantly refused offers of freedom in exchange for exile, even as her husband, Michael Aris, was dying of cancer. "The lady" continues to remind the world that peace is still a tangible option.

    The generals' willingness to release Suu Kyi derives from their eagerness to end Burma's economic isolation and be accepted as a legitimate member of the international community. In their statement yesterday, the junta vowed to work with countries near and far to fight terrorism and eradicate drugs, as well as curb the spread of HIV/Aids. If they are true to their word, then this is a welcome development. They have also committed themselves to allowing all Burmese citizens to participate in the country's political process and have pledged to give priority to national unity, peace and stability.

    Though these words generate hope, let's not forget that broken promises are a benchmark of the junta, and in the end words must be matched with deeds.The junta must also be reminded that the country's ethnic minorities cannot be left out of the reconciliation process. The generals must also be sincere about their cease-fire talks with the remaining armed groups along the Thai border.

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    U.N. envoy whose company did business in the country had no conflict of interest, U.N. says

    By GERALD NADLER, Associated Press Writer

    UNITED NATIONS - A special U.N. envoy to Myanmar whose company will sell the country electronic passport technology has no conflict of interest, U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said Monday.

    Razali Ismail, who helped secure Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's release from house arrest, said in Kuala Lumpur Monday his impartiality was not compromised by the business deal with Myanmar's military government.

    Razali, a former Malaysian U.N. ambassador, acknowledged in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press that he was chairman of a Malaysian company called IRIS Technologies and held shares in it.

    U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said the kind of part-time contract that Razali has with the United Nations doesn't carry any restrictions on business activities.

    Eckhard said Razali was asked about the deal and said the company entered into a contract not just with Myanmar but with all the Association of Southeast Asian Nations: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

    Eckhard also quoted Razali as saying the contract for the high-tech passports embedded with microchips was done before Razali became special envoy in April 2000, and that he never discussed the deal with Myanmar authorities."There's no conflict of interest," Eckhard said.

    Razali, who has made seven trips to Myanmar, has been trying to help break a 12-year political deadlock between Suu Kyi's party and the military junta ruling the country, formerly known as Burma.Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy swept parliamentary elections in 1990, but the military refused to hand over power.Until she was freed Monday by Razali's efforts, Suu Kyi had spent most of the past dozen years under various forms of confinement to her home.The release was a major achievement for Razali's diplomacy.

    In the interview in Kuala Lumpur, Razali said he had come under no pressure from the United Nations to resign and was looking forward to returning to Myanmar to facilitate further negotiations.

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    U.N. envoy denies Myanmar business deal compromised his role

    By JASBANT SINGH, Associated Press Writer

    KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - U.N. envoy Razali Ismail, who helped secure Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's release from house arrest, said Monday his impartiality was not compromised by a business deal with the military government.

    In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, Razali acknowledged that he held shares in a Malaysian company called IRIS Technologies. The International Herald Tribune, a Paris-based newspaper, reported Monday that IRIS signed a deal two weeks ago with Myanmar's government to supply high-tech passports embedded with microchips.

    Razali, who is chairman of the company, was in Myanmar at the time when the deal was made.But he told the AP he had played no role in the company's negotiations with Myanmar's government.

    "This innuendo is really below the belt," Razali said. "It is unfair. Some people don't understand my sense of integrity. I was never in Myanmar to clinch the deal.""I have not even once talked to the leaders in Myanmar about IRIS," he said.

    Razali said IRIS had been offering electronic passports technology to other Southeast Asian countries, not just Myanmar, well before he became special envoy to the country in April 2000 to help break its political deadlock.

    Razali said he was not in Myanmar two weeks ago to "clinch the deal" for IRIS."I was never involved in the negotiations during my last visit to Myanmar," Razali said. "I hardly had any time to even brush my teeth because of the work I had to do.""What do they want me to do?" Razali said. "Resign from being an envoy of the U.N. or resign from IRIS?"

    The Herald-Tribune report cited U.N. officials as saying the business deal did not necessarily violate the international organization's rules.All high-level full-time employees are required to submit financial disclosure statements showing there was no conflict of interest between their business interests and U.N. work, it said.

    Razali said he had come under no pressure from the United Nations to resign and said he was looking forward to returning to Myanmar to facilitate further negotiations.He also predicted that democracy could come to the country "in a couple of years." The military has ruled Myanmar since 1962.

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    ILO appoints interim liaison officer in Myanmar

    GENEVA - The International Labor Organization said Monday it had appointed Leon de Riedmatten as its interim liaison officer in Myanmar the first time it has been allowed to appoint an official in the country.

    De Riedmatten also will continue in his current job as representative of the Geneva-based Center for Humanitarian Dialogue in Myanmar, the U.N. labor agency said in a statement.

    The ILO signed an agreement with the military government of Myanmar in March to station a liaison officer in the country by June as the first step toward setting up a permanent office there.

    Myanmar has been under pressure from the ILO since November 2000 when the agency urged its 175 member governments to impose sanctions on Myanmar and review their dealings with the country to ensure they are not abetting forced labor.The ILO and other international observers have long accused the military of using unpaid labor on public works and making civilians serve as army porters.

    De Riedmatten will be "responsible for settling all logistical issues and establishing preliminary contacts with all persons and institutions for the future ILO liaison officer," the agency said.He will report on the start of his work to the ILO conference when it meets in Geneva next month, ILO said.

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    Htoo twins reject US

    Wassana Nanuam
    The Bangkokpost

    The two Karen twins, former leaders of the disbanded God's Army, have refused to resettle in the United States.An army source said Johnny and Luther Htoo had decided against moving to the US because they wanted to be with Karen friends in Thailand. They also felt insecure about living in the US after the Sept 11 terror attacks.

    The army was also trying to convince the 13-year-old boys currently at Ban Ton Yang refugee shelter in Kanchanaburi's Sangkhla Buri district to quit smoking and attend school.

    The source said the mental condition of the twins had improved over the past six months, as they had been living with their parents and sister, and spending time with children of their age.

    But both still smoke, though Luther had cut down. Johnny remained a heavy smoker and continued to keep his hair long.Maj-Gen Mana Prachakjit, commander of the 9th Infantry Division in Kanchanaburi, said the army was paying special attention to the twins' welfare.

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    Junta must commit to democracy before sanctions lifted

    YANGON, May 7 (AFP) - Myanmar's ruling generals have made an important gesture in freeing democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, but Western governments warn they must do much more if crippling sanctions are to be lifted.

    While messages of congratulation poured in from around the world on the military regime's move to release the 56-year-old dissident Monday, leaders were quick to say that this was only the first step.The United States and the European Union firmly stated there was no prospect of immediately lifting the embargos that were imposed in protest at Myanmar's human rights record and tolerance of the narcotics trade.

    US President George W. Bush urged the generals to steer their impoverished country towards democracy, and said he hoped Aung San Suu Kyi's release represented a "new dawn".Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said the release was a move in the right direction, "but there are still numerous issues to be resolved.""To those who ask if the EU is ready to change its joint position towards Myanmar, I must say no," he said.

    Analysts said several major steps would need to be taken before foreign governments begin reviewing the sanctions, which together with the junta's chronic economic mismanagement have brought the country to its knees.The EU refuses to give visas to members of the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), and military cooperation has been severed. The United States goes further, barring all new investment to Myannmar.

    "The government will have to make an official declaration where they tell their people that they have begun this dialogue (with Aung San Suu Kyi," said one Yangon-based diplomat."Then they must release the prisoners, move towards democracy, and say that they are ready to hold elections," he said.

    "Everyone said they were pleased at the junta's move to release Aung San Suu Kyi because they had to, but we will see where they go from here."

    Even though the release of Aung San Suu Kyi will not have any effect on existing sanctions, it may have succeeded in shelving US legislation that would have barred Myanmar's 500 million dollars in annual exports.As the two bills neared the US Congress in recent weeks, there was an implicit threat they could pass into law at any moment if the junta did not act on freeing the democracy leader and countenancing reform.

    After the euphoria of the release Monday, rights campaigners urged foreign governments not to pull back on their sanctions stance before the regime makes tangible progress towards democracy.

    "It is unlikely that the international community will squander all the hard work they've done over the past few years," said Debbie Stotthard from Bangkok-based rights group Altsean-Burma."When Aung San Suu Kyi was released in 1995 for the first time there was a similar air of optimism and hope, but unfortunately her release didn't lead to any change or shift in the military's position.""I think everyone would be cautious or even quite wary of giving away too much too soon," she said, pointing out that the democracy leader's own support of sanctions had not yet shifted.

    One of the first countries to move on the sanctions issue could be Japan, the biggest creditor nation and aid donor to Myanmar, which promised Monday to provide further support if Yangon speeds up the reform process.Japan suspended all but a small amount of humanitarian aid in the aftermath of the 1988 military takeover, but the flow of funds resumed in 1994.

    "Should it be the case that the democratisation process is further accelerated, the government of Japan will support the efforts toward nation-building in a more active manner," said Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi.Japan's aid-for-reform strategy has been criticised in the West, notably by the United States which has said in the past that despite signs of a political thaw, it remains inappropriate to deal with Myanmar's military rulers.

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    Bush tells Myanmar's rulers to embrace democracy

    WASHINGTON, May 6 (AFP) - President George W. Bush on Monday told Myanmar's military rulers that only an "urgent" effort to return to the country to democracy could bring prosperity to its impoverished people.

    In a statement to welcome the release from house arrest of Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Bush said he hoped that all parties in the country would press ahead with the "urgent work" of political reconciliation.

    "The United States welcomes the release from house arrest of Burma's Nobel Laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party won an overwhelming victory in elections in 1990 but was never allowed to assume power," Bush said, referring to Myanmar's former name.

    "We hope her release will be "a new dawn" for Burma, as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi told her supporters," Bush said using the prefix Daw, a Burmese honorific."Only a return to democracy and reintegration with the international community can bring the freedom and prosperity which the people of Burma both long for and deserve."

    Bush said the United States would work with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the European Union and Japan "on how the international community can most effectively encourage further progress toward restoration of democracy."

    The inclusion of that phrase seemed to hold out the prospect at least of some kind of incentives for Myanmar's junta to proceed along the road of political reform.

    Several years ago, Western nations and Japan mulled the use of so-called "carrot and stick" diplomacy, which was envisaged to provide graded incentives as the junta embraced reform.But the strategy faded in the months following September 2000 when Aung San Suu Kyi was interned in her home in the latest of her frequent clashes with the military government.

    Both the United States and the European Union signalled on Monday however that they were not ready to lift a range of punitive sanctions imposed against Myanmar, in protest at its perceived human rights abuses.

    Bush also praised the work of UN Special Envoy Razali Ismail for his "tireless efforts" in facilitating Aung San Suu Kyi's secret dialogue with the junta.Earlier, in his first public reaction to Aung San Suu Kyi's release from 19 months of house arrest on Monday, Bush said : "I thought that was very positive, a good development," during a trip to Michigan.

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    Thai PM wants minorities included in Myanmar national reconciliation

    BANGKOK, May 7 (AFP) - Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra Tuesday called on Myanmar's military junta to include ethnic minorities in national reconciliation talks after Aung San Suu Kyi's release from house arrest.

    "It was a good sign," Thaksin said of the decision to free the democracy leader Monday after a 19-month detention."But it is not enough, as national reconciliation is meant to include minorities and all parties to participate in developing the country."

    "I congratulated the Myanmar government on its brave decision to follow international norms, but the next step should be to invite all minorities to take part in development which would be good for the region as well as the world community," he added.

    The ethnic groups, a key part of Myanamr's political scene, have long clamoured to be included in reconciliation talks that the junta began with Aung San Suu Kyi in October 2000.

    At her first press conference Monday, the Nobel peace laureate was asked if and when the ethnic parties would be included in the process."We haven't reached this stage yet," she said.

    Several ethnic minorities in Myanmar continue to wage decades-old armed struggles against the government, but 17 former anti-government militias have struck cease-fire deals with Yangon.The international community has roundly condemned Myanmar for allegedly turning a blind eye to the massive production of drugs in areas controlled by some ceasefire groups.

    Thaksin said he had recently told Myanmar's army chief General Maung Aye, number-two in the junta, that the military government should take swift action on drugs suppression."We have told them that we will support them on every aspect but we will not tolerate drugs, so quick and serious drug suppression by Myanmar will enable Thailand to offer cooperation," he added.

    The narcotics issue has been an impediment to improved relations between the historic adversaries, sparking regular border clashes between Thai troops and traffickers who channel heroin and methamphetmaines across the border.

    In February, the United Nations International Narcotics Control Board said Myanmar was the world's largest producer of opium, accounting for some 50 or 60 percent of the global supply of the drug.

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    State media blacks out news of Suu Kyi release despite praise from world leaders

    By DANIEL LOVERING, Associated Press Writer

    YANGON, Myanmar - Myanmar's state media on Tuesday blacked out the news of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's release from house arrest, which was hailed by world leaders as a first step toward restoring democracy after years of military rule.

    The front pages of state-owned newspapers including the English-language New Light of Myanmar were devoted to the activities of the visiting Vietnamese President Tran Duc Luong.

    "Just imagine, we get to see the faces of only the generals and their wives. How come they don't publicize our leader's release," shouted Nwo Nwo, a grocery store owner in Yangon, as her customers nodded in agreement.

    The state media silence is typical of the junta's attitude toward Suu Kyi, apparently because it fears that giving her publicity will fuel her popularity. State TV also did not report Suu Kyi's release. Satellite television is available only to a select few.

    "I am very disappointed that Daw Suu's release was not even broadcast on our TV. Many people wanted to have a glimpse of her," said San San, a 37-year-old housewife, using the honorific "Daw" to refer to Suu Kyi.

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    Myanmar economy in tatters under weight of sanctions, mismanagement

    YANGON, May 7 (AFP) - The heavy weight of international sanctions against Myanmar's military regime, combined with gross economic mismanagement, has left the country's economy teetering on the brink of collapse.

    After struggling along fitfully thanks to the black market and cash from the illicit narcotics trade, it now faces a renewed threat as the kyat currency hovers around all-time lows.

    But Western governments say there is no prospect of lifting the embargoes despite this week's release of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.The sanctions were introduced after the bloody repression of 1988 pro-democracy protests and 1990 elections that the junta refused to recognise.

    The European Union created a "common position" on sanctions in 1996 which is renewed every six months, most recently in April this year.The position includes an arms embargo imposed in 1990, suspension of defence cooperation in 1991 and suspension of bilateral aid other than strictly humanitarian assistance.It also introduced a visa ban on members of the military regime and their families, and suspended high-level governmental visits to Myanmar.

    The EU has not imposed any trade, investment or financial sanctions on Myanmar, but its generalised scheme of preferences (GSP), which had allowed for preferential tariff treatment, was withdrawn in 1997.The following year the visa ban was widened to include transit visas.

    In 2000 the EU also banned exports to Myanmar of equipment that might be used for internal repression or terrorism, published a list of people affected by the visa ban and imposed a freeze on funds held abroad by people listed.

    The United States, one of the regime's most vocal critics, has also slapped harsh sanctions on the country.In 1996, it banned visas for members of the military and government, and in a hard-hitting move the following year banned all new US investment in Myanmar.

    The United States has also suspended economic aid, withdrew benefits under its generalised system of preferences (GSP) and Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), denied credits from the Commodity Credit Corporation and Export-Import Bank assistance and restricted imports of Myanmar oil and gas.

    Washington also banned the export of defense equipment and opposes the extension of international financial assistance to Myanmar.A bill proposing to ban all imports from Myanmar, worth some 500 million dollars a year, was introduced to Congress last June to mark Aung San Suu Kyi's 56th birthday but has not yet passed.

    Although her release will not prompt the US to lift existing sanctions, the move may have successfully averted the imposition of the imports ban which would have devastated the textile and agriculture industries.

    "I have no idea what Congress intends to do now," said a spokesperson from the US embassy in Yangon Tuesday when asked about the fate of the legislation.

    In June 1999 the International Labour Organisation (ILO) took the unprecedented step of excluding Myanmar from all ILO meetings and programs except those concerning it, and in November 2000 it called on all ILO members to apply sanctions against the country.

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